Wednesday 19 September 2018

September forest delights

Another post dedicated to forests and probably one of the many similar ones yet to come this autumn! Well, forests are our favourite environment and thus we spend quite a lot of time visiting and exploring them. So far it's been an excellent mushroom season and we have the impression we caught a great amount of species we didn't see in the previous years. We aren't actually mushroom collectors, but rather we like to enjoy them where they grow in their natural habitat, be it a tasty bolete or a deadly agaric! During one such "mushroom visit" to a local forest near our home in the Karst, we came across a great variety of interesting species, some of which are shown in the photos to follow (some still under ID process).

Bronze Bolete Boletus aereus
Hazel Bolete Leccinum pseudoscabrum (L. carpini).
Either Hortiboletus rubellus or Suillellus queletii
Puffball sp. Lycoperdon mammiforme
Common Puffball Lycoperdon perlatum
Parasol Mushroom Macrolepiota procera
Agaric Amanita sp.
Russula sp.
Ramaria sp.
Probable Butter Bolete Boletus appendiculatus

Even more interesting than the fungi on the forest floor was the casual find of a male Ural Owl Strix uralensis - a rare species in this part of Slovenia. We noticed the bird as a noisy flock of songbirds was giving loud alarm calls. Soon we also located the owl and enjoyed it with good views. A few days later we returned to the place to find not 1 but 3 different Ural Owls. We witnessed a singing male being attacked by another male and flushed away, while a female was angrily calling nearby. Probably a dispute on the edge of two territories. Nearby we also enjoyed in the sight and sounds of 1-2 Middle Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos medius - a local pair we know rather well. 

Ural Owl Strix uralensis

Further afield we spent two days in the Notranjska region, making some exploration and scouting for future projects. We were rather depressed to see that vast parts of the Dinaric forests on the Snežnik plateau are being heavily logged. It is now quite hard to find a decent piece of forest, where you don't hear the chainsaw and where the effects of human activity aren't visible. Fortunately some patches of forest are so inaccessible and difficult to reach that they still remain truly wild. We visited one such example of mixed Dinaric forest set on heavily karstified limestone terrain, full of caves, sinkholes and dolinas that is protected as a forest reserve (logging is not allowed there). As we entered a stand of very old Norway spruces Picea abies we almost immediately heard the distinctive "knocking" of a Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, feeding on a dead spruce. Following the sound we spotted the bird, a female, that gave excellent and close views, as it is usual for the species.

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus
Typical Three-toed Woodpecker habitat.

We then continued our way into the forest reserve and enjoyed in the hundreds of fungi sprouting from the forest floor - we are still processing the ID for most of the species in the photos below (we'll add the exact names sometime later). The great amount of dead and decaying wood in this forest and the mixture between conifers and beech trees make for a perfect habitat for specialist birds like Three-toed and White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos - both nesting here. 

Mixed primeval forest of beech Fagus sylvatica and silver fir Abies alba on very rocky, karstified terrain.
Dead beech Fagus sylvatica covered with Tinder Fungus Fomes fomentarius.
Porcelain Fungus Oudemansiella mucida
Bracket fungi
Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria
Sarcodon imbricatus or Sarcodon scabrosus
Puffball Lycoperdon sp.
Puffball Lycoperdon sp.
Puffball Lycoperdon sp.
Agaric Amanita sp.
Clitocybe sp.
Agaric Amanita sp.
Agaric Amanita sp.
Earthstar Geastrum sp.
Shaggy Ink Cap Coprinus comatus
Bolete sp.

Later in the day we followed again a woodpecker's knocking and re-found the female Three-toed, some distance away from the first spot. A shy Ural Owl Strix uralensis gave a hoot in the late afternoon, but we couldn't locate it. However we were still lucky with this species as we flushed a bird from the side of a forest road, whilst driving. Other interesting birds were in the form of a distant singing Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum, 3-4 Nutcrackers Nucifraga caryocatactes, a Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius and 3 Black Woodpeckers Dryocopus martius (heard only).

Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes

The final surprise and the most heart-stopping one, was when an adult Brown Bear Ursus arctos appeared at the side of the road, while we were driving back from the forest reserve. It was rather quick in fleeing away from us, but as it descended and open forest slope, we could watch it for a few seconds, before it vanished into the vegetation. Amazingly this bear was more or less on the same strecth of road on the northern side of mount Snežnik, where in spring we had two similar encouters!
During a visit to the Veliki Obrh stream in Loška dolina, we were also excited to find some fresh footprints of Otters Lutra lutra that are known to inhabit this area.

Footprints of Otter Lutra lutra
Otter habitat on the Veliki Obrh stream.